Intended for non-technical majors, the Physical Science sequence is a scientific survey of concepts including measurement, mechanics, energy, electric charge, magnetism, and light. Formal lectures are replaced with group collaboration and inquiry-based learning. In addition to the physical concepts, students learn how to design and carry out experiments. This involves developing measurement-taking skills, recording and analyzing results, and drawing physical and mathematical conclusions from observations.

Topics for the Physical Science sequence:

  • Scientific method for understanding our world
  • Designing and building apparatus
  • Making observations and posing questions
  • Answering questions and testing hypotheses
  • Finding general and consistent relationships

 

Inquiry-based Learning

 

Our physical science courses consist primarily of in-class activities and experiments. On most days, you will use some appropriate laboratory equipment to investigate one or more physical phenomena related to the topics listed above. The instructor is present to help you to learn the material that we cover, but he or she will rarely directly tell you the “final answer” to a homework or exam question. The purpose of this course is to help you to appreciate the power of scientific reasoning to render the world around you knowable. You cannot achieve that purpose if your instructor simply tells you how things work. You must discover that for yourself; yoru lab group and instructor can help, but in the end, you will be responsible for your own learning.

Do not expect your physical science course to be lecture-based. Lectures will be minimal, and rote memorization of material will not be emphasized. Often you will have to find answers yourself, not just listen and repeat them. Always remember that the primary goal of the class is to learn about the process of scientific inquiry, not to find answers to specific questions.

For Further Information

For additional information, you can contact the Director of the Division, Austin M. Gleeson.

Courses Offered

Below are summaries of the Physical Science courses currently offered.

 

PS 303 • Physical Science 303
 

Physical Science 303 covers measurement, mechanics, heat, energy, and power.

Course content is created by individual instructors and is meant to convey physical concepts while requiring minimal mathematical sophistication. A proficiency in basic algebra is recommended.

See instructor pages for instructor-specific curricula.

Possible topics in PS 303:

Measurement

  • Quality and applicability of measurements
  • Uncertainty and error
  • Elementary statistics
  • Dealing with data
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Basic mathematical modeling

Theory

  • Newtonian mechanics, including forces and motion
  • Treating direction using vectors
  • Energy, power, and heat
  • Work and efficiency
  • Conservation laws
  • Estimation techniques

 

PS 304 • Physical Science 304
 

Physical Science 304 covers concepts related to electric charge, circuitry, magnetism, wave mechanics, and light.

Course content is created by individual instructors and is meant to convey physical concepts while requiring minimal mathematical sophistication. An understanding of basic physical quantities covered in PS 303, such as force, energy, and power, is assumed. A proficiency in basic algebra is recommended.

See instructor pages for instructor-specific curricula.

Possible topics in PS 304:

Electricity

  • Electric charge
  • Circuits

Magnetism

  • Magnets
  • Electromagnets

Waves and Optics

  • Wave mechanics
  • Light